Academic journal article Military Review

Weaving the Tangled Web: Military Deception in Large-Scale Combat Operations

Academic journal article Military Review

Weaving the Tangled Web: Military Deception in Large-Scale Combat Operations

Article excerpt

Throughout the recorded history of warfare, military planners and commanders have sought to deceive their adversary as to the size, timing, or location of an attack in order to gain a decisive advantage. From the famous Trojan Horse to modern efforts to use the electromagnetic spectrum to "spoof" or jam sensors, deception in some form remains an essential component of military operations. Whether attacking an unsuspecting enemy on Christmas morning, as Washington did at Trenton, or emplacing "Quaker guns" (logs painted black to resemble cannons) to provide the impression of strength, U.S. forces have successfully built on a long legacy of military deception (MILDEC) in order to prevail in the Nations wars. While technology continues to advance at a dizzying pace, threatening to render previous lessons obsolete, MILDEC operations have successfully withstood previous developments and even incorporated new technologies to continue to form an important part of combat operations. While in some cases MILDEC is potentially capable of enabling military forces to prevail without a fight, as the theorist Sun Tzu postulated, more often it confers an advantage that helps the side that successfully harnesses it prevail, often at a much lower cost than it would have otherwise. (1) Thus, MILDEC, and its long and successful history, remain an important, even vital, tool for any future leader.

Given the voluminous and excellent body of literature currently available on military deception, it is certainly worth asking why we need another volume on the topic. (2) Weaving the Tangled Web: Military Deception in Large-Scale Combat Operations is not intended to displace, even if it could, the deeply-researched and lengthy treatises on the long history of military deception operations. Rather, it is intended as a primer and a thought piece for how strategists, operational planners, staff officers and, ultimately, commanders have historically integrated military deception into large-scale combat operations, focusing on the last one hundred years of conflict. The individual chapters, while certainly excellent stand-alone treatments of the deception aspects of the operations and campaigns considered, likewise are of insufficient length to become the definitive works on their individual topics. Instead, they build upon the extensive secondary literature and, in several cases, primary sources in order to provide a comprehensive but accessible understanding of how military deception has successfully enabled victory on the battlefield.

If principles of war can be sifted out of military history, as the master, Carl von Clausewitz, attempted to do with Napoleon's campaigns, then these twelve case studies also ought to provide us with some "universal truths" regarding deception operations. (3) Admittedly, considering successful deception operations primarily involving the U.S. Army and its principal allies and antagonists may omit a number of relevant examples. But, these cases are sufficient to provide several enduring threads of continuity in successful operations that, most importantly, remain relevant for current and future practitioners.

One of the first is the importance of coordination in deception campaigns, especially since the addition of warfare in the third dimension (air warfare), which coincides with the beginning of this book. Many thought that the airplane, and later radar and satellite imagery, marked the end of successful deception by pulling back the veil that had shielded terrestrial armies for millennia. Instead, deception remained a key, if significantly more complicated aspect of many campaigns. While previously deception had to be coordinated between the military and political instruments of national power, now it also had to be practiced in multiple domains simultaneously. In what could be labeled multi-domain deception, these plans required close and careful coordination across the warfighting domains to ensure that lapses in one area did not undo efforts in other areas. …

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